I've always loved the Castle Series, the organisation is second to none and the support and stunning locations make the whole experience somehow a little more relaxing. Chris Collett and I decided upon Castle Howard (near York) last year without realising it clashed with other races on that weekend, but we had made our choice and stuck with it. Although not my A race this year it was to be the first 70.3 we've both embarked upon and also a psychological boost for me leading up to Barcelona Ironman early October.
With a 3-4 hour journey ahead of us we decided to grab an Airbnb 3 miles from the event in a sleepy village called Terrington. Friday night was spent laying out race kit in its 3 disciplines and wondering how to get two bikes in the back of my car. I had been advised not to put carbon bikes on roof racks due to possible stones and I don't have a rear rack so Saturday morning in the back went both bikes. Chris' bike sat on top of mine with plenty of padding in between.
We arrived in Terrington at 4pm Saturday and met the owner Pamela who said that we were sharing the house with 4 other athletes. You can pre-register (not rack) from 5-6pm the day before the race so we headed over to check in and take another look at the race maps and transition layout. A stunning venue sat before us, we asked a few questions and received some worrying feedback about how challenging this race can be.
We had booked an early pub lunch nearby and smashed down 3 carb heavy courses followed by shandy and ice, Chris' idea not mine!
Back at the Airbnb we bumped into the other athletes. Two young doctors and a nice couple who were something to do with Truestart, the athlete high caffeine coffee brand. The doctors had not entered a triathlon before let alone a 70.3 and one of them joked he needed to change into separate kit in each transition phase, crazy we thought.
5.30am alarm went off, porridge done, car loaded and we were on our way for our 8am wave. Bikes racked, gauntlet swim hats on, we wished the doctors luck and walked 400m down the hill through the boathouse to the lake for the race briefing. Water temp was 24 degrees and we are advised not to wear wetsuits, everyone ignored it! Standing next to me was one of the doctors in a Billabong windsurfing shortie, hilarious!
Air horn blasts and the piranha pit erupted. We had to keep yellow buoys on your left up one edge of the lake, turn at an orange buoy at one end then loop back through endless weed going either right or left of red buoys coming back but you must travel through a gate with the last yellow buoy on your right or you cut a corner for the second lap. Nevertheless on the second lap I went the wrong side of the last yellow buoy and missed the gate, I was heading for the exit when I get prodded by a canoeist oar and told to head back 100m. Exit the swim with Chris and we steady jog 400m up hill to transition.
I feel I train well enough or at least the best I can with running a business, travel and family commitments. Anyone that knows me well, knows how I feel about hills and the next 5hrs of the race was full of them! As beautiful as the Yorkshire countryside is high % gradient climbs for 50% of each 45k loop kind of distracts you from taking it all in. Don't get me wrong there was some superb descents hitting 36mph in places. Chris and I lead each other at times for most of the first 45k maintaining around 18-20mph until I started to get massive bladder pain as I tucked up. It was a warm day and I had taken on too much water early on. I stopped for a pee and quickly got back on the bike but Chris was gone. Second bike loop and I was In the small chain ring for the climbs this time around and starting to feel it. Entering transition I felt quite good considering and I noticed Chris' bike racked next to me. He is a good runner So I had banked on not seeing him until the end of the race.
I felt really good running off the bike, the best I've ever felt with no jelly leg at all. The run was all off road and brutal. Chris made a comment at the end of the race that he wouldn't have run that half marathon on its own let alone as a triathlon. Straight into a vertical through woodland and into overgrown, rock hard uneven farmers fields. You even run up a set of man made mud stairs to an elevated section of woodland. I was a bit worried about my Achilles as your ankles went over on every foot strike. 5k in I turned into a dark uphill wooded area and I could see a Havering Tri shirt up ahead. I thought Chris was waiting for me but he was grimacing and shaking his head. He had jarred his back on the uneven floor and his back was in spasm. I stopped and we walked for a bit, I was sure he might not finish. I said to him that if he was going to quit due to pain I would walk the rest of the 15k with him. He carried on walking so I ran on, well sort of running! I tag on to two guys one of which has entered a 70.3 pretty much every month since the season started, clearly looking a good athlete. He had done castle Howard previously and told me that he was hoping for sub or near 6hrs so I knew it was a tough one. The other guy he was with I thought was a friend of his but it turns out he had severe cramp so he was helping him finish. The camaraderie in this sport never ceases to amaze me.
Beautiful lakes, steep downhills and a final run through the well supported palace grounds lead me to the end of the second 10k run loop with just one last climb up to the finish line. I finished in 6hrs 33min put my medal on and loaded up on fruit, ritz biscuits and cake.
I knew Chris was walking so I decided to get my kit and head back for him. As I entered transition I was greeted by my doctor mate, he did well and he was not such a novice after all. The cheeky sod was fit as a fiddle!
Chris came running through the finish line, he had finished and getting that medal meant a lot more than any time that's for sure.
A nice 4hr drive home gave us time to reflect. Flatter 70.3's are on our menu for next season.